Edmonton teacher Lynden Dorval may lose job over zeroes

The Edmonton Public School Board has a No-Zero Policy. When 61-year-old Lynden Dorval continued to dole out zeroes to students who failed to hand in assignments last year, he was suspended.

And now that suspension may result in his termination, as the principal of Ross Sheppard High School, ignoring students' petitions asking for Dorval's reinstatement to the classroom, has recommended Dorval's dismissal.

"I have been told that termination often results in withdrawal of teaching certificate, which means I may not be able to teach anywhere," Dorval told CTV's Canada AM from Edmonton Friday.

In principal Ron Bradley's letter to Dorval, he cites Dorval's failure to mark and return tests in a timely manner following his mid-May suspension as contributors to his recommended dismissal:

"Your habitual refusal to obey lawful orders, your repeated insubordination, and your obvious neglect of duty force me to consider recommending termination of your contract with Edmonton Public Schools," Bradley wrote.

Dorval responded that when he was suspended for his stand against the No-Zero policy, he was told to turn in his keys and pack up his belongings at once — and claims he didn't realize he hadn't returned some of the exams until the school notified him of the issue.

"All of this confusion could have been easily avoided by allowing even one day of transition to allow me to walk the new teacher through what he need to prepare and we could have easily identified any missing evaluation material…I turn your own words back on you: If you were so concerned with the achievement of those students, then why did you so abruptly terminate my teaching and replace me with an inexperienced teacher?" Dorval rebutted.

Read both letters in full at the Edmonton Journal.

The Edmonton Public School Board is set to review the No-Zero approach this fall.

"That's why I'm still doing this," Dorval told the Canadian Press, determined to fight both his dismissal and the no-zero policy.

"Otherwise I would just let the termination go through. But I think to keep it in the public mind and eye is the most important thing that needs to be talked about because a lot of parents, even some of the trustees I'm sure, didn't know these kinds of policies are in place."

Those in support of the No-Zero policy claim that zeroes don't reflect what a student knows about a subject — unfinished work should be treated as a behavioural issue, not an academic one — nor zeroes encourage improvement. Instead, students should be given "incomplete" grades when they fail to hand in work. They are then expected to do make-up assignments.

Dorval, a physics teacher for 35 years, claims this approach doesn't prepare students for the real world, nor are students motivated by the more lenient grading system.

"The students need to develop that intrinsic motivation to do it on their own," Dorval told the National Post.

"There's actually no research that backs what they're doing; it's simply a philosophy. I believe it damages students to allow them to just get away with not doing any work. They say that giving out zeros damages their esteem and makes them give up. But in my experience, that's not true at all," he told CTV News.

When the Edmonton Journal polled its readers last summer, 97 per cent of them believed a zero is an appropriate mark on an assignment that isn't handed in.

Dorval is set to appear before the superintendent on September 10th to address the call for dismissal.

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